Calls to close Somali refugee camps stir debate in Kenya

Several members of the Kenyan National Assembly's Defense and National Security Committee are spearheading a campaign for the closure of Somali refugee camps

Calls to close Somali refugee camps stir debate in Kenya

World Bulletin/News Desk

Increasing demands to close Somali refugee camps in northern Kenya, especially after last month's Westgate Mall attack, are creating shockwaves among the Somali community in the African country.

"Some of the MPs campaigning for the closure of the camps and forced repatriation of refugees are misguided and selfish," Bashir Mohamed, a politician and prominent businessman from the Kenyan Somali community, told Anadolu Agency.

Several members of the Kenyan National Assembly's Defense and National Security Committee are spearheading a campaign for the closure of Somali refugee camps in the northern region of the country.

Shortly after last month's Westgate Mall siege - which left 67 people dead and some 175 others injured - Asman Kamama, the Committee Chairman, asked the government to close the camps and repatriate the Somali refugees to their country, claiming that their continued presence was a threat to peace in Kenya.

He suggested that Somalia had attained peace and therefore should set up the camps inside areas liberated from al-Shabaab militants.

Another MP who strongly advocates the same view is David Wafula of Saboti, a constituency in the North Western part of Kenya.

He suggested that some of the refugees were not vetted properly and often leave the camps which, he said, were not properly monitored.

Kenya is currently hosting more than 500,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia.

The Westgate Mall four-day siege saga was claimed by the Somali al-Shabaab militant group as a reprisal for the deployment of Kenyan troops in their country.

Intelligence reports suggested that some of al-Shabaab militants enter Kenya through the refugee camps and that there are active cells of the militant group recruiting followers in some of the camps.

Kamama and members of the Defense and Security Committee have vowed to push for the closure of the camps as part of the security measures in the wake of the Westgate Mall attack.

Mohamed, the Somali politician, played down the link.

"Kenya had had terrorist attacks including the one at Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi even before the camps were set up," he noted.

The debate about the closure of the Somali refugee camps has long preceded the Westgate Mall attack.

As early as June, Aden Duale, the Majority Leader of the ruling Jubilee Coalition in parliament, said his government was treating the issue of refugee repatriation as a matter of priority.

He said it would be done through a joint coordination commission comprising officials from the Kenya government and UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).


Ali Abdisalaan, another leader and businessman from the Somali community in North Eastern Kenya, says the Kenyan government should be able to monitor "any bad elements said to be in the camps and weed them out."

"We have has some problems due to the location of the camps here around Garissa," he told AA.

But Somali community leaders say if needs be the evacuation of refugee camps must be coordinated with the UN and be well-prepared for in advance.

"The process of closing the camps and repatriation of the refugees should be handled by the Kenya and the UN jointly, with camps being set up in safer areas of Dobley, Afmadhow and Kismayu (inside Somalia)," said Mohamed.

"But the process should first ensure necessities such as water and toilets are available," he insisted.

The politician warned that forced repatriation would be "unacceptable and inhuman as Somalia is not completely secure."

Human rights organizations, including the Geneva-based Human Rights Watch, insist that a hurried and uncoordinated closer of the camps will violate the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.

The Convention, of which Kenya is a signatory, forbids the involuntary return of refugees to a country where the threat of persecution persists.

"The closure should not be done in a hurry but should be well-coordinated to avoid disruption of the lives of both the refugees and the benefit chain that they have sustained for more than two decades," agreed Abdisalaan.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Ekim 2013, 09:29

Muhammed Öylek